February 11, 2008

Game Character Development

Gamers creating their own characters in games is nothing new. Capcom would sponsor contests in video game magazines that allowed readers to design and submit new Robot Masters for the MegaMan series. Wrestling games allow players to build their own dream athlete, customizing everything from their physical appearance to their repertoire of holds. Can't forget about Will Wright's runaway success called The Sims, allowing you to create tiny replicas of yourself and your friends and control every aspect of their digital lives. And most recently, Nintendo DS (Wii version forthcoming) played host to Drawn To Life, an innovative game where players take on the role of "The Creator" and use their styluses to draw not only their game character, but weapons and platforms as well. Before a few weeks ago, the preceding examples were some of the many outlets I had in making my own video game characters. With all that in mind, try to imagine being granted the position of creating game characters that will be built into the game itself for the whole world to enjoy.

I've already discussed being drafted to work on a still-under-wraps video game, and that my first assignment was to write a story that would help sell people on the idea of running with it. With that taken care of, and thankfully well received, I was asked to develop characters for the game that would be marketable. I had to make eight of them, down from the original number of twenty. You see, twenty was the first number thrown around because it was understood that the only difference each character would have is a certain ability the player could utilize to help them beat the game. But then it was decided to give the characters character. And it would be far easier to develop eight rather than that number plus twelve. Which means less bodies for you guys to keep tabs on.

One of the major guidelines for creating this cast was that we wanted them to have different ethnicities and nationalities so that everyone would be able to identify with at least one. Then there was our first idea of giving them their own unique abilities for gameplay reasons. I took five days to create those eight major characters. As I said before, these are not going to be throw-aways who will only be seen in one game. We're talking the possibility of merchandising here. There are profits that could be riding on my shoulders. So after creating them, I sat with them awhile to see if I was comfortable with presenting them as the figureheads of this project. I really felt they would be worthy, so I submitted them to the game's mastermind for approval, and he accepted them.

Here's the list of traits I used to construct the characters.
Name- Important for more reasons than to just keep us from referring to everyone as "that guy". A good name will help you remember the character more, plus it adds a degree of likability. For example, do you think Sonic the Hedgehog would have become a video game icon if he were called Zippy instead? He could have been put into the same great games, but there's just something more appealing about "Sonic" than "Zippy". Anyway, since this project called for a cast with different ethnicities and nationalities, I found a site that had listings of names from cultures all over the world. This helped me in finding names unique to each world region.
Ethnicity/Nationality- All ethnic groups are represented, and I chose the most diverse nationalities as the foundation of the character personas. If I left out yours, I apologize.
Expertise- These characters will have to do more than stand around and blink, they got to get out there and give you an enjoyable game experience with their talents! Each one is special and you will have to capitalize on each individual's strengths to get you through the game.
Description- This explains what each character is all about, such as their role and their personality. Some of their attitudes are even based on what their major skill is. I even figured how they may get along with each other, creating strong friendships and shaky ties.
Outfit- We're looking to keep this game from receiving the much feared Adults Only (AO) rating, so we have to put clothes on them. I made them some threads that would match up well with the three previous traits I discussed.
Hair- I chose varying hair styles to top our characters off with; no one shares the same type of mop. Hmmm... I guess I was wrong. I failed to create at least one character for an oft-neglected group of our society to identify with: bald people.

I even went as far as sketching how the main characters would look and based the outfit and hair descriptions off what I came up with. That's probably a major reason why I continue to draw to this very day instead of sticking completely to the writing process. It just helps me relate to the character more if I can give them form.

I've already birthed quite a large cast of characters for my own stories, so creating a brand new roster was a lot easier than I thought it would be. And consider the fact that I was making them for someone else's approval. A daunting task to be sure but I think I nailed it. So now that I've got the story and game characters down, what's next?

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